Nac Mac Vegan: adventures in rabbit food

29/01/2011

Veggie Hut, Wembley

Filed under: Eating out, Food Courts — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 13:58

Veggie Hut, WembleyOnce upon a time, there was Oriental City in Colindale, a fabulous East Asian shopping centre with a big supermarket and a food court. Then the developers moved in and got the place closed down so they could build flats in an area now devoid of any facilities other than ASDA.

Pacific Plaza, right by Wembley Stadium, is the reincarnation. It’s much smaller, but the food court contains an entirely vegetarian outlet, Veggie Hut.

The food is mostly South Indian, and is ludicrously cheap. I splashed out on the lunch special, which cost a princely £3.50 and included a plain dosa, one vada, two idli, two chutneys, a bowl of sambhar and a drink of my choice.

Veggie Hut Lunch Special

All this for £3.50!

The dosa was a touch on the oily side, but that’s as far as I am going to complain. The chutneys were the traditional coconut plus a tamarind one, both spicy and making no concessions to English tastes. The vada was crispy on the outside, soft within and the idlis were so delicate I needed to use a spoon. The sambhar was filled with vegetables, interesting ones.

There are vegetarian options at the other stands, notably Hot Korean and Nambu (Japanese) both of which indicate what’s suitable, or can be made so, on their menus. The supermarket is due to reopen here soon, too.

Oh, and the redevelopment of Oriental City? After taking so much trouble to close it down, the developers have done precisely nothing with the site.

Veggie Hut, Pacific Plaza food court, Engineers Way, Wembley, London HA9 0EG. [Map – note that it’s not where Google thinks it is, but over the road among the collection of outlets]. Open 10.00 till 22.00 daily; last orders 21.00.

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23/04/2010

Buying sea vegetables

Filed under: Ingredients, Shopping — Tags: , , — Feòrag @ 02:35

Looking at the search terms which bring people to this blog, I’ve noticed a lot them are questions about buying sea vegetables, usually in London.

Now, I don’t live in London, and only visit two or three times a year, but I do know the answer to that question, and it includes general information that can be applied to anywhere.

  • Organic and whole foods stores usually have the Clearspring range, which includes the Japanese staples, plus dulse (one of my favourites). Clearspring products are more expensive than many, but the quality is outstanding. There’s a list of stockists online.
  • The Japan Centre on Regent Street, next to Mitsukoshi, has the Clearspring range, several Japanese brands plus some obscurities. There is a small cluster of Japanese shops nearby on Brewer Street which also sell a range of sea vegetables.
  • Chinese supermarkets are another good source, and there are a number of those in Chinatown. The quality is more variable than in the health food shops or Japanese stores, but there are Chinese supermarkets in many cities.

Finally, last time I was there, there was a stall on Borough Market which sold Welsh laver bread. I can’t find it on their list of traders, but there again, I can’t remember what else they sold.

11/01/2010

London: Pembury Tavern

Filed under: Eating out, Pub grub — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 10:46

The Pembury Tavern is a very fine pub indeed. Noted for its huge range of real ales, it also has traditional cider and a small but impressive selection of bottles, mostly Belgian and German. There is no pissy lager here – even the draught lager is from a microbrewery. The second keg font is a guest tap. When we arrived it had Gouden Carollus Christmas (pun intended, apparently) on. Later it became Poperings Hommelbier. Fentimans soft drinks are available as well as decent coffee. They also do food, and some of that is vegan.

I went there last night to meet up with friends and to eat. I had hummus and pita bread to start. The garlicky hummus was almost certainly home-made. Having spent a chunk of the previous day moaning about stuffed peppers being the universal vegetarian option in Ireland (outside Dublin), I chose to order them. I could have had a curry, or possibly the nut roast.

When they arrived, it became obvious a starter was not necessary. There were two peppers, and an enormous pile of salad, and being stuffed with couscous and slivers of vegetables, they were filling – a perfect preparation for the abuse that followed, and continued into the night. The filling was perfect – just moist enough. It’s easy to make couscous too dry, or completely soggy.

There was even a vegan dessert (apple pie with sorbet), but I needed to leave some space for booze!

The pub itself is heaven – it’s a single room, but one with secluded corners, with very little decoration. The furniture is delightfully random, and there are no TVs, piped music, or games machines. Despite this, it’s not a quiet pub – there’s too much conversation going on for that. There is a bar billiards table in one corner, a pool table in another and lots of board and card games available to play.

Pembury Tavern, 90 Amhurst Road, Hackney, E8 1JH. Phone: 020 8986 8597. [Map]

09/01/2010

London: Itadaki Zen

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , — Feòrag @ 11:56

How long did you expect it would take me to try out a Japanese vegan restaurant? Well, I arrived in London on Thursday afternoon and went to a gig in Islington that evening, so I didn’t get out to Itadaki Zen until Friday lunchtime.

The space was light and pretty much what you’d expect. The menus were printed on handmade Japanese paper, and the napkins were folded in a different way on each table. Ours were in the form of a lotus flower around a small bowl, and it seemed a shame to undo them.
an elaborately folded napkin in the form of a lotus flower

To drink, we both went for one of their specialised “teas” – Itadaki Tea – a creamy, somewhat nutty soya milk concoction served in miso bowls. Just right for the cold, snowy weather.

I ordered the lunchtime sushi set, and my partner had Misonikomi Udon. My set arrived in a bento and included two spring rolls and a mashed potato salad, as well as two types of gunken (carrot and okra), two nigiri (nori tempura and inari) and a pair of matching rolls. The photo shows the set after I’d had a bite of one of the spring rolls. The shouyu came in a small clear plastic dalek with instructions clearly printed on top: ここをプッシュシてくださ, it said, “please push this”.

The Udon were served in a miso broth with julienne strips of aburaage fried tofu), carrot and cabbage – another dish which really hit the spot.

We were impressed with the food and decided to have dessert – this is supposed to be an indulgent break, after all. The desserts were mostly kanten – agar-based jelly – and my partner opted for a sesame one. Feeling adventurous (I can make kanten at home!), I tried warabimochi – small mochi made from potato starch instead of rice and dusted with toasted soya flour. The latter proved very difficult to eat with the implement provided, but was considerably better than it looked. It wasn’t too sweet, which suits my tastes.

At nearly £30 for lunch for two, it’s not a particularly cheap place, but also not expensive by London standards. I’d like to go back in the evening to try one of their set meals, but have no time on this trip.

Itadaki Zen, 139 King’s Cross Road, London, WC1X 9BJ‎. Phone: 020 7278 3573‎. [Map]

07/07/2009

London: Eat and Two Veg

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 13:01

Note: this restaurant has now closed down. Bugger.

Look at all that lovely spinach!

Look at all that lovely spinach!

Last week, at home in Edinburgh, my partner and I had been pondering where to go for breakfast that could both cater to me, and keep himself happy. We forgot about the one place that has build-your-own breakfasts (the Auld Hoose) and so ended up having something completely different instead.

This week, we were in London, so things should have been better. I admit I’m surprised that Eat and Two Veg was the only place coming up on searches to do vegan breakfasts, but it wasn’t too much out of the way, so we went along.

It fit the bill. I got a completely vegan breakfast which consisted of some grilled smoked tofu, beans, mushrooms, toast, lots of spinach –something I’ve only seen in Australia (and one posh cafe in Belfast) before — and half a large, half-cooked tomato, which got handed over to my partner before I took the photograph. I like raw tomatoes, and ones that are thoroughly cooked, but there’s a halfway stage I really dislike, and it seems to be a standard part of cooked breakfasts. Fortunately, he likes them that way. He got his eggs, (veggie) sausage etc. We both came out satisfied and happy. There was neither too little nor too much food, it was nicely cooked, although the toast was more like warm bread, and it tasted great.

Vegan breakfast choices could have been improved if they used vegan sausages, and the main menu looked almost bereft of vegan options. We’ll go back, but only for breakfast.

Eat and Two Veg, 50 Marylebone High St, London, UK, London W1U 5HN. (Warning: the restaurant website is all Flash, so presumably they do not welcome customers with visual disabilities).

05/05/2009

Those vegan Chinese buffets

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , — Feòrag @ 10:09

One good thing about London is the vegan Chinese/Thai buffets that are everywhere, it seems. There’s a chain of them, plus a couple of independent ones, and it means that reliably vegan food is never very far away.

Most of them are called either Tai or Veg, and the chain is run by some kind of Buddhist cult. If they’re recruiting, they don’t exactly make any great efforts – you might, if you look, spot the plain A4 notices giving details of meditation sessions and cookery classes, but that’s as evangelical as they get.

The food is not the most fantastic in the world – there’s an over-reliance on fried items, and they definitely like their MSG – but it’s only £5.50 for as much as you can eat in the daytime (I think it goes as high as £6.50 in the evening), and it’s all vegan. No worries about what you can eat, nor about cross-contamination.

The food is Chinese Buddhist, but not monastic grade – onions and garlic are used, and it relies heavily on fake meats made from various combinations of soya, wheat gluten and konnyaku. The fake prawns can be unnerving at times. There are vegan interpretations of sesame toast, prawn crackers, spring rolls (probably the standard Tsingtao brand, beloved of caterers everywhere) and potstickers. There are curries, and a range of stir-fried stuff in other sauces, plus various rice and noodles, though they seem to have stopped providing plain boiled rice. Some of them do vegan duck pancakes.

It is possible to eat healthily – there’s a salad section with plenty of stuff that isn’t fried, including fruit, and a cold, spicy tofu dish.

As with any buffet, is probably best to go at a time when it’s busy enough that the food is fresh, but not so busy that you can’t get anywhere near the counter! There are too many of them to list here, but most of them are mentioned at the Vegan London eating out guide.

03/05/2009

An unexpected vegan treat

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , , , , — Feòrag @ 09:21

Inside M Manze, Bermondsey

Inside M Manze, Bermondsey

The London Randomness Guide threw me an irresistible option yesterday – something so intriguing that I couldn’t not try it. It told me of Manze’s pie and mash shops. Now, pie and mash is a very traditional food among the white working class of London, and is essentially what you think it is: a meat pie served with mashed potato and either liquor (a non-dairy parsley sauce) or gravy, and the only other things pie and mash shops tend to sell is eels, either stewed or jellied. So, nothing much there for the vegan, right? Well, according to the Randomness description of M. Manze:

Vegetarian pies are available, but there’s a 10-minute wait while they heat one up. According to the Manze’s website, the vegetarian pies, the mash, and the liquor are all suitable for vegans.

The website also mentions that the gravy is suitable for vegetarians. It was a no-brainer, and soon I found myself, and two meat-eating companions, on a bus heading down Tower Bridge Road. The shop is exquisite, with tiles, and marble table tops, with the only change in the last 80 years or so being the sympathetic addition of some stainless steel surfaces in the food serving area. Manze is no dodgy establishment, and they pride themselves on keeping up with all modern hygiene standards, and even some up-to-date ingredients, whilst maintaining a traditional atmosphere and flavour.

I ordered the one vegetarian pie, one mash and one liquor, plus sarsaparilla to drink. The food only took five minutes, if that, and this is what I got:

Vegan pie and mash, with liquor.

Vegan pie and mash, with liquor.

Now, I’m not from London, but I’m from a working class background, and that just says to me “food”. One of the others, of more refined origin, opined that it resembled school dinners. Obviously private schools have better dinners than we did! We all tucked in, and none of us was disappointed. The veggie pies are made with a soya-based mince to resemble the meaty ones as closely as possible – none of those effete vegetables here. The pastry was a little tough at the edges (does chewing it count as exercise?), but the mash was made of potatoes – real ones, that tasted of something – and nothing else. The liquor was interesting, mildly herby and was really good with the potato. This is the only recipe I’ve found so far, with a very superficial search, and making that vegan will be trivial.

Overall, I never expected to find food like this in a vegan form, especially not in such a traditional shop, and it was solid comfort food that kept us going all day whilst touristing around London, and it was a joy to eat. I’ll be back on my next visit, and I’m only waiting that long because the shop’s not open until after I get home (Sundays and bank holidays being in the way).

M. Manze Pie and Mash shop, 87 Tower Bridge Road, London SE1 4TW. Open lunchtime only, Mon-Sat. Closed Sundays and bank holidays.

01/05/2009

On the road

Filed under: Eating out — Tags: , , , , , , — Feòrag @ 09:57

I’ve been on my travels, stalking Ultravox around the UK, and I’ve only just persuaded the laptop that it wants to let me log in to WordPress. The whole experience has been good for me – I’m eating surprisingly well, drinking less than usual (I want to be sober to enjoy the gigs, and not need to rush out half way through!), and am getting lots of exercise from all the dancing.

I’ve eaten in old favourites like Café Soya in Birmingham, and made an acquaintance with establishments such as The Porter Bar in Bath, a pub with an entirely vegetarian food menu with more than adequate vegan selections. I had the Sausage and Bean Cassoulet, as did my meat-eating friend, which was substantial and comforting. The partner of the aforementioned friend is also a really good cook, who seemed to relish the challenge of feeding me.

I’m currently in London – my second visit in a week, thanks to gigs at the Hammersmith Odeon (and, like Midge, I don’t care what it’s called now – it’s the Hammersmith Odeon, okay?) and the Roundhouse in Camden being six days apart. I had the London Randomness Guide recommended to me, and have been using it (oh, how I love thee iPhone) to find places to eat that are not listed in the usual place. One of the regular contributers, whilst not vegan themselves, has this thing about finding vegan-friendly places, and it’s one of the standard search options.

Mimouza in Shepherd’s Bush was one of the places it took me to. It’s a Moroccan place with an good selection of vegan dishes. The service was friendly, but I’ll leave it to the people accompanying me to describe it:

The service was atrocious, including waiting half an hour to tell me my choice of mains was unavailable as they were out of okra. I selected another, and five minutes later was told that was out as well. It took forever for our drinks to arrive (non-alcoholic cocktails, very nice), then even longer for the starters. Our mains were brought after seemingly forever and one of them was a completely different dish to what was ordered. They were all taken away and brought back ten minutes later. Two of the three in the second round of booze-free cocktails were on the house to make up for the error.

The food was very good, but after the service, we declined to stay and experience dessert. Unfortunately, as our two courses had taken around 2 and a half hours, the preferred local hostelry (The Stinging Nettle) was shut. It should be noted that we thought the place was practically empty, but there is a second room in the back which had a large party (and is presumably responsible for the poor service).

The food was great. I had the soup followed by a spinach and butter bean tagine with couscous. And boo to the pub for being shut at midnight on a Saturday in London!

Cock-ups seem to be the order of the week. My second Randomness discovery was The Real Greek, a small chain of restaurants. Their menu is really promising, with vegan options marked but, as I have discovered, that really means that the dish can be made vegan if asked. I went for the vegetable souvlaki (kebab), which is marked as vegan, but I noticed that it contained tzatziki and asked for that to be omitted. It was mentioned that this was because I was vegan. The menu described it as consisting of grilled seasonal vegetables, so imagine my surprise when one of those vegetables turned out to be feta cheese! I complained, and a replacement was issued promptly. It was good though, and I will probably go back there and try a selection of the cold mezzes (there are no vegan hot ones), but I will be very careful to mention that I’m vegan and ask for a note of that to be made, even though I’ll only be ordering stuff marked as vegan on the menu.

I’ve also visited Tibits in the new Westfield shopping centre (not that exciting, but I like the geodesic roof), which is a pay-by-weight vegetarian buffet. Again, there were plenty of vegan options, and staff were on hand to explain the system. The card explaining how it worked was auf Deutsch on the reverse – the parent company is Swiss. The culinary highlight for me was the German potato salad with gherkin, something I got fond of on my last trip to Berlin where I could get a plate of their (vegan) Kartoffelsalat ohne Fleisch for €1.50 at HarDies Kneipe, a friendly gay bar round the corner from my hotel. The HarDies version has red peppers in it, too, and is the inspiration for my own potato salad.

It’s been a good tour, and I’ve not had to invoke travel rules at all (“some dairy allowed if staying vegan means not eating”). I’m hoping they announce a European tour – that should challenge me a bit.

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